Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Unceasing marvel each excites;
Untired, her stores we claim,
Close seated round o’ winter nights,
Beside the faggot's flame."—Anon.
I was soon across the fields through Kimyal, Ragennis, Halwyn, Paul church-town, and out to Choon. I skipped along, went down over Paul hill as lively as a kid, feeling that the drop of French brandy had done me all the good. How true the old saying is, that "a spur in the head is worth two in the heels." I dearly like the truth.
It must have been about four o'clock when I arrived in Penzance. After I had done my marketing, I took a turn down to the new public-house in Market-jew-street, to have a drink of beer with the piece of Christmas cake I brought in my pocket to eat on the road. The house was so full there was no getting within, and I sat down, with many others, on the long bench placed under the trees opposite the door. The tapster brought us out our drink. There were a number of travellers’ and carriers’ horses fastened to the mangers placed under the trees below. I courseyed with a few old acquaintances, and we wished each other a merry Christmas in some very fair ale, and a little brandy after, that it might not be cold in the stomach.
Old friends are loath to part, and I should have stopped much longer if it had not been getting dusk very early. Besides, I thought what a way master would be in if he hadn't the spices brought home in time for making the Christmas ale. I had forgotten some few arrants too, and when up among the standings, again looking up such things as I wanted, who should I see but Tom Chenance!—who but he, whipping about as brisk as a bee from standing to stall, picking and pocketing all that pleased his fancy, and nobody seemed to notice him. He took hanks of yarn, stockings, and cloth from one, shoes and leather, pewter spoons and knives, from another, stuffing all into his wallet together. I could hardly believe my own eyes. I looked and looked again to be sure, before I went up to him, and said, "Tom, artn’t thee ashamed to be here in the dark carrying on such a game?" "Ah, ha!" says he, "is that thee, old Joan? which eye can ye see me upon?" After winking, it seemed to me that my left eye was bleared, for I could only see him on the right—the on that had been touched with the ointment. I answered, "’Tis plain enough that I can see thee on my right eye." Then, looking as if he
would look me through, he brought his hand up close to my face; he pointed his finger to my right eye, and mumbled out a spell, but I could only catch the words
[paragraph continues] Then he blew in my face, and, when his blasting breath struck my eye, all the sight was gone; and from that day to this I haven't seen a blink on my blighted eye. I was almost made with the pain, as I tumbled up and down, calling on the market-women to catch the thief; but they couldn't see the villain. I didn't think of it at the time, but the same devil's salve that caused me to see him made the thief to be unseen. Some (who were no better than the thief himself) said I was a drunken old baggage, and told me to go home the same way as I came. I was so bewildered and "tossicated" about that I couldn't tell whether I was going towards the Quay or St. Clare, Alwarton or Market-jew, nor where I was at all, until I again found myself down by the door of the public-house. Then I just took one horn of beer to deaden the pain in my eye, but wouldn't take any more for fear of making my head light.
By good luck I took my bearings right, blind as I was, and steered my course down Voundervoor and over the horse-tracks among the sandybanks, on the Green,—and what a dreary lonely road that is too—not a house as large as a pig's crow beside the road all the way from Voundervoor to Tolcarn, nor a single light to be seen shining from a casement anywhere, except in the windows of a few fishermen's houses in the place they have now named Newlyn. Not being able to see more than half the road I often fell into the ditch on the blind side, and, for fear of missing the track and getting too near the sea, I fell over the low hedge into Park-an-skebbar (the field below the barn belonging to Tolcarn). It was no more than six o'clock then, so the maidens told me who were in the field milking, and the way they were so late was because they finished decking the house with holly and bays, and other Christmas greens, before they came out. One of the boys who brought out the hay for the cows put me down as far as Tom Treglown's smith's-shop (you know where it is), a little below the stepping-stones that cross Tolcarn river. Tom took me in and gave me a good glass of new-fashioned, nice cordial called shrub. I would have taken another with all my heart if he had asked me,—it did my stomach so much good; but it is such precious stuff, or he liked it too well himself to ask me take a second glass. However, he was civil enow to lend me a hand to get across the stream. And well for me that he was there to help me; one can never see well where to place one's feet on the stepping-stones when the water is eddying about them in the moonlight, even when one has the best of sight.
My dear Duffy, you may be sure that I was very glad to find myself in Paul, and so near home once more. Thinks I to myself I shall be home yet all in good time for the squire to have the spice and things for the Christmas ale: another hour's walk, or less, will bring me home. I hoped that my troubles were over now; but, good Booth, they were hardly begun yet, my dear cheeld, for I didn't reach home for that night. And now I must stop a spell, and have a horn to wet my whistle, before I tell ye of the narrow escape I had of being carried away bodily by the Old One, more than once, before I reached Trove bottom. And I feel dry whenever I think of it.
I left the smith's house, hoping to reach home in time to get the supper for master and the company that were sure to be at Trive on Christmas Eve, but when I had dragged myself up Paul Hill it was hard work for me to stand up, and I determined, as I passed Choon, that if there was any light to be seen in Rose-an-beagle I would go into Aunt Joney Polgrain's and stop for the night; but when I reached the end of the lane there wasn't a glimmer of light to be seen in the house. Thinks I to myself, dame Polgrain is gone to roost, and, as she isn't the best tempered body in the world, there will be but a cold welcome for me if I disturb her. Then, to rest myself awhile and think whatever I should do to get home, I fell to sit, as I though, on a green bank beside the road, but instead of finding myself on a bank plump down I went in a pit of muddy water, with my heels tossed up higher than my head. By much kicking and scrambling like a toad on his back getting out of a hole, or a dumbledory (beetle) kicking himself clear of the dung, I got up to my knees at last, and begged and prayed that I might find an old quiet horse in the lane to have a lift: else I felt (as the weakness of my legs, the sickness of my stomach, and the pain in my eyes, altogether, made my head so light that it was no easy matter for me to stand steady) I should never be able to get home for that night, with my streaming-wet, quilted coats hanging about my legs. I should have been ashamed to go into any decent house then like that of Joney Polgrain, if there had been any light to be seen.
After wringing my petticoats, and going on a few steps, there in the ditch (as it seemed in answer to my prayers) stood an old horse, that I took to be uncle Will Polgrain's grey mare (I had seen the beast some place before) spanned with a halter, and eating from the hedge. ’Twas only the work of a moment for me to untie the halter from the legs of the horse, and place it over his head and ears, then to mount his back from the hedge. I had to place myself astride. Nobody could sit sideling, bare-ridged, on the lean, razor-backed thing;—as well try to balance oneself without holding fast on the top of a gate or on a pike-staff. That I mightn't be cut in two with the sharp backbone of the beast I got back on the cheens as far as one could without falling over behind. The beast, at first, would hardly move one foot before the other, with all
the whacking I gave it with my ivory-headed cane over every part within my reach. I might cry gee-up and gee-ho; devil a bit the faster would the old thing go, until we got near Trevella, when it pricked up its ears at the cry of some hounds giving tongue (as they often do when out hunting by the moonlight). The beast took off to trot going down Trevella lane, faster and faster still, with such rough motion and high action, bump, bump, I couldn't keep my seat without a tight grasp on his tail with my right hand, the halter I held in my left hand, and the basket was swinging on that arm: by the time I had the power to sling my cane by the leather loop over my wrist, that I might have the firmer holdfast of the tail of the hoss, or of the devil, or whatever it was, it went like the wind. The more I cried wo-hey! wo-ho! the faster still the thing would go, and seemed to me, by the time we reached Trevella lane's end, to be grown as high as the tower. Then it would leap across all the turnings, and over the corners of the hedges coming into the lane. The wind rose at the same time to a hurricane; mingled with the roaring of the storm was the howling of the dogs, and the blast of the huntsman's horn. The thing I was mounted on often rose on end, or plunged in such a way that my heels were sent aloft and my head thrown over the tail, or the pitching of the thing would bring my head down on his shoulder; but, worst of all, my cane hanging down over the rump of the thing, swinging by the thong to my wrist, was sent by the flying legs of the devil's charger all the time wallopping about my head and ears like a threshal (flail). Do but think, my dear Duffy, what a picture I must have looked, as we galloped along through Trevella lanes—my best steeple-crowned hat hanging over my back by the strings round my neck, the basket swinging on me left arm, which was dragged out of joint with holding on the halter of the hard-headed brute.
I kept a good holdfast on the tail of the beast for a long while, but at last, with snorting and blowing, it made a rush over the hedge through bramble and bush into the croft, then back in the lane again, and down the road faster and faster—stones and fire flying, the wind howling, and getting under my coats, I was so tossed about that I lost my mainstay; that being gone, the wind would every now and then take me up so high that I could barely touch the back of my steed with the high heels of my shoes. On the Clodgey Moor the devil, or dragon, or whatever I was mounted on, took off the road towards the fowling-pool, and people say, you know, that the devil's huntsman and his hounds have often been seen (after hunting Trevella and Mimmis carns) to come down over the moor and vanish in the Clodgey pool. The halter in my left hand was the only stay that now kept me on the thing, often more standing than sitting, when it gallopped round and round the pool. With my stick I hindered it from plunging into the water, and kept on its back until the blast of a whirlwind getting under my coats made me lose the halter and took me up like a feather, towers high. I was kept long hovering in
the air and mounting higher and higher until I lost sight of this wicked world. My scarlet cloak spread out on one side, the open skirt of my gown on the other like the outstretched wings of an eagle; true, I never did see one, yet any person (who had chanced to have seen me then) must have taken me for a very uncommon bird, or when coming down one might have taken me for a monster of a kite, and have shot me whilst in the sky beating on against the wind, if the Powers that raised me above this sinful world had not preserved me in a wonderful way from man and devils. Whilst I was flying in the air, with outstretched wings, the black huntsman came down the road over the moor and his hounds came around the pool to drink. The devil's charger (that I was taken from by a miracle that I might escape the old one) ran on to the road, the huntsman blew his horn, sprung on the steed, and when I was dropping slowly down I saw them all—man, horse, and hounds—going like lightning down the moors in flashing balls of fire. By a great mercy I came gently down and alighted on a brake of rushes when I again touched the ground. There was plain proof in the sickening smell of sulphur all around that the being who rode the beast away was one of brimstone, and not of clay. Through all my riding and flying I kept my basket and stick. The bunch of rushes I was landed on was surrounded with bogs like an island in the sea. In getting off, and wading through the mud on to dry land, my shoes were dragged from my feet; then, barefooted, I hobbled down the moor, keeping on the grass all the way.
It took me a long time to hobble along barefooted from the fowling-pool to the large rock on one side of the brake of thorns, near the horse-track, at the bottom of the moor. I rested a few minutes on the lew side of the rick and was preparing to start once more for home, when I again heard the sounds of the tramp of a horse, the winding of the bugle-horn, and yelping of the hounds. I shook with dread and fear, fell on my knees in prayer that the Lord might again deliver me from the black huntsman, who was now so near that I heard the snorting of his steed. A moment after the sound of the horse's hoofs came within a few yards of the brake and rock; then ceased. I prayed with all my power that the Old One might be deceived of his prey that night. Not hearing any sounds for some time I ventured a look towards the road, and there, at no great distance off, I spied the black huntsman, seated on the same horse with a pillion behind him. We have all heard of the wiles of the devil, and the various schemes he takes to tempt poor creatures to their destruction. I prayed that I might not be beguiled by false appearances, nor by any of the allurements of the evil one (who was now come to try the power of his illusions on my poor wearied carcase). As I prayed with all me strength that the devil might not discover my place of refuge, he blew a blast on his bugle-horn, called his hell-hounds together, and gallopped up the hill. Not a moment longer would I stay on this haunted moor. Not even Sennen Green and Kelynack Downs have a worse name
than the Clodgey and the carns around it. I got at last to the gate opening into the North Downs;—the gate is near the river, and just inside the gate is the bowjey, where plenty of straw is kept under hand for the young cattle on the downs and moors. I felt as if my bleeding feet would carry me no farther, to save my life. It was as much as ever I could do to crawl into the bowjey, and fall down, more dead than alive, among the straw. I was then within a quarter-of-a-mile of home, yet had it been to save my soul I could not have gone a step farther.
Although my pains and sufferings were dreadful, I soon fell into a troubled sleep, with fatigue and weakness, and was again waked up by the tramp of a horse and the barking of dogs, that were soon in the house, all around and treading over me. Grasping my stick, to beat them off, I heard the tramping of boots near the door. "Avaunt thee, sathanas, in the name of the Lord," cried I; and, when I ventured to take my hand from my eyes, there was the squire with a lantern in his hand and the man Jan close behind.
"What have we here? May the devil run away with me," says the squire, "if our old Joan isn't here among the straw dead drunk! when men and boys, with horse and hounds, have been trying to hunt her up in the town and all the country round, during the whole of this blessed night."
"Oh! master," I said, for the sake of all I have done for you, from your cradle to the time you were booted and breeched, do leave me to die in peace and bury me decent, I beseech ye. By all that I have done and suffered for ye, from the time ye mounted a horse until this the last hour of my life, by the remembrance of all my knitting and spinning, for the sake of all the pies and puddings I have made, and by all that I have done and suffered for ye from the time ye first mounted a horse until this last blessed hour of my life, oh! my dear master, swear to me, by your horses and hounds and all you love best, that you will leave nobody abuse me after I am gone above to my old mistress; but whatever shall I tell her about this wicked world and the bad doings of the people of Buryan?"
"Tell her! tell who? Hold thy tongue, old fool!" says the squire, after I had made this tender appeal to his best feelings, that might have touched the heart of a dumbledory. Then turning to my unnatural son, he said, "Jan, my dear man, run down to the mill as fast as thee cust lay feet to ground, for the miller's wheelbarrow, that we pay get out old mammy home before she is frozen to death: tell the miller to bring a flask of brandy, and dame Tremellyn to come up quick with some blankets, flour-sacks, or anything that comes to hand to keep the cold from her this frosty morning."
The miller was the first to run up from the mill. "Here, aunt Joan," said he (when the squire raised my head), "take a hair of the dog that bit ye; it will do ye all the good."
"Oh!" says I, "I have never been the worse of liquor in my life; and as this is the last drop I shall ever taste in this world, I will just take a thimbleful to help me round land comfortable."
By the time I had swallowed the drop of brandy dame Tremellyn was come with blankets and flour-sacks, and Jan with the barrow and ropes. They lifted me into the barrow to sit on some straw, and covered me over all but my head (I wouldn't have the flour-sacks thrown over my best steeple-crown). The squire and Jan fastened the ropes to the ears of the barrow, to help to get it over the banks and up the hill. Dame Tremellyn held me steady, and the miller took the handles. When I found myself once more in the broad green lane among the trees, and trundled along over the smooth bowling-green, I felt that the drop of brandy had saved my life, and when I was seated in the old hall before the blazing fire, eating a bowl of warm caudle that Betty Trevelyan made me take, I should have felt very well but for the remembrance of what I had gone through. Then I told them how I had been served by Tom Chenance, missed my way in consequence; but, most fearful even to think or speak of, how I had escaped twice just by the skin of my teeth, as is were, in a most wonderful way, from being carried off by the, Old One, and the last time he came to tempt me to go away—weary worn, and footsore as I was—with a horse and pillion. But, thank the powers, I had the grace to resist all the wiles of the evil one.
Then, to help me overcome my fright (I suppose), they made up a story among them that the steed of Satan that beguiled me was no other than the miller's breachy horse (that no spanning will keep from going over the hedges), which had got into the lane from Trevella croft, where Tremellyn had put it an hour or two before, and spanned with the halter; and the black huntsman and his hounds were no other than my own son Jan and our dogs; that, thinking we hadn't rabbits and hares enough for the Christmas feast, man Jan had taken the hounds and gone off to hunt the crofts about Trevella and Mimmis carns, by the moonlight; that coming down over the moor near the fowling-pool, he had found the miller's horse on the road with the halter under its feet; that then Jan mounted the horse, rode home, and finding that I wasn't come home from town, put the saddle and pillion on the miller's horse at once and rode off to town, hoping to meet me on the road. He called at all the houses on the way, to inquire after me, as he said in his impudence that I was like a miller's horse for stopping at every door. Joan Polgrain, in Rose-an-beagle, told him that she had neither seen nor heard of me. At Tom's Smith's shop, by Tolcarn river, Treglown told him that I had passed over the hill many hours before. He was then come back, when the squire, boys, and all who had been searching round for me, were going into the bowjey. Jan said the story the squire made up was all true, but if the squire tells as big a lie as ever was spoken his man Jan will swear to it, and the miller, the sinful unbelieving wretch, said I was just as
much, and no more, in the sky, than his old woman was the other night, when she dreamed that she went up to visit the man in the moon, to know the reason why he had not hung out a better light the other night, for her and the rest of the witches to see how to steer their black ram-cats, and the brooms on which they rode, across the water, to milk the Welshmen's cows. When she awoke there was no putting it out of her head but that she had been aloft all night. She would have me believe that on first staring one night, with the rest from Castle-peak, she (being foremost always) went off with such force that the end of her broom-stick came slap against the sky; the blow made the blue ceiling over this world to ring like a crystal goblet, or a silver bell; and that it continued to ring louder and louder, until it sounded harder than the biggest bell in Buryan tower, when some of the smallest stars fell out with the shock and she came down after them expecting to find them, but they all fell down in the sea somewhere between Penvonlas and Scilly rocks, when their lights were put out and she lost them, except from her hot brains. "I tell thee what, Aunt Joan," said the villain of a miller, "It would have been no wonder if my young horse had gone into fits with the fright he must have had to see thee fixed astride on his rump, with thy long bony shanks and high-heeled shoes cocked out on each side, your claws stuck fast of his tail, the skirt of your open swing-tail gown and your scarlet cloak flapping about his head and ears, surely he must have thought that something worse than Satan was mounted on his hindquarters when your heavy spiked cane was wallopping about and sticking into the poor brute's legs. Lucky for ye old deat," said he, "that you were either blown, thrown, or fell on the brake of rushes; then you went off in a drunken doze and dreamt of flying like a kite or an angel. What a beauty you must have been! You were waked up by the noise of our own Jan, winding his horn to call in the hounds, saw him mount my nag and gallop down the hill, then you took him, your own son, for the devil. As for the balls of fire they were all in your own hot head, old dear."
"Oh! you liar," I answered, "as if I have not lived long enough in the world, and heard enough about such things, not to know the Old One when I saw him; and to speak of him in the way you do is very wicked, thou disbelieving sinner."
He told me besides that it was only my vanity and conceit that puffed me up, and sent me flying in the sky. "Old Joan," says he, "doesn’t thee think thyself of so much consequence, that, for thy sake, the old gentleman would ever leave his own warm country this cold morning and come tramping from far away, with a horse and pillion, to fetch such a troublesome curious old woman as you are. They would rather never have ye among them;—your everlasting meddling would set them all by the ears. And Tom Chenance did no more than right to put out the light of your game eye. You shall have another and a better one made of chaney, or beautiful clome, that you mayn't see honest people
stealing things in the market when they are not near the place. If you came down to the mill with that eye anointed with the devil's-salve you would swear that I, the honest miller, tolled the grist five or six times when I had not put my dish into the sacks more than half so often. I tell thee, Joan, all peeping spies only see evil, because they look and wish for that alone; and if they can't see wickedness enough to please them in a natural way they will rub on some of the devil's eye-ointment to make them see as much as they wish for."
I left him go on, but I shall find a chance some day to serve him out, or it's much to me.
I closed my eyes, as I was leaning back in the chimney-corner and seemed to take no heed; but it was a fox's sleep with my eyes closed and ears open. Then I overheard him say to the squire, "If our old Joan, when she was down in the cove, had been treated by Betty to some of the vile, home-distilled, instead of with the pure spirits of France, she would have seen the dwelling of Chenance full of blue devils in place of the pretty innocent small people. Best part of the devils, ghosts, and all sorts of apparitions that our old women (whether in petticoats or breeches) see, are merely the vapours of the spirits they take in their drink."
The miller has the impudence to say quite as bad, or worse, to one's face, I know, as he says behind one's back. The squire, poor graceless man, says he is an honest-spoken fellow, and my Jan is as bad. I hope I may some day be enabled to forget: then I will forgive them.
Over a while the men left the hall, and the women got me up to bed. After all my troubles it was no wonder that I soon fell asleep and didn't wake till late in the afternoon: then, taking the twilight for the break of day, I composed myself to sleep again, and did not wake up for good, till I heard many voices below singing some of the sweet old curls (carols). I could stay in bed no longer. The squire had been up to church, and, according to his custom, had asked down the singers to give them a treat on Christmas Day in the Evening. Our own—the tenants’—feast was the next day. They began with the carol for Christmas Day in the Morning
[paragraph continues] Then the carol of the three ships—
[paragraph continues] I don't remember all this carol, but I shall never forget the sweet music of the last verse—
[paragraph continues] Next they sang the Cherry-tree Carol—
[paragraph continues] Then "The Seven Sweet Joys of Mary"—
[paragraph continues] The last I heard them singing when I fell asleep was the sweet old carol of the "Holy Well," which I like best of all—
I went to bed early, for Christmas time, and was fast asleep long before they had ceased singing the sweet old carols. All the women-folks wanted to be early in bed that night, because they had to rise betimes in the morning of the morrow on Christmas Day; as on that day, long before I was born, the Lovells of Trove have held their Christmas feast for the tenantry, when many from a long way upwards, as well as friends and relations from all the country over, come and remain in Trove over Old Christmas Day. That all might be ready in time for the expected company, the women-folks had to rise soon after midnight to make the pies, prepare the meat, game, and poultry, for roasting, boiling, and baking, and to get the great oven (opening into the side of the kitchen chimney) thoroughly heated. By the break of day all the bottoms rung, and the hills resounded far away, with the winding of man Jan's bugle-horn to rouse the folks of Boleit, Trevider, Kerris, Castallack, and all the villages round, to join in the hunting and hare-tracing over the newly-fallen
snow. As soon as all the men had left the hall (where they found their breakfast ready before daylight) there was such a fire made in the great chimney of the hall as is only seen there twice a year—at Christmas and the Feast.
The fireplace was filled up all its depth, and from bottom to top, with logs of oak, ash, and elm (with bog-turf laid between and piled behind the wood, to keep up a steady fire). By the time the fire was all aglow, and sending out such heat and sweet smoke from wood and turf that one might feel and smell it all over the town-place, the largest joints were spitted, and the two great spits placed on the hand-irons before the hall fire: an hour or two after, the geese and other small things were placed on the end of the same spits, until our great spits were full from end to end, all the width of the chimney; and many such small things as woodcocks, snipes, plovers, teal, and other wild fowl, and small game of all sorts and kinds, were placed to roast on the dripping-pans, and turned from time to time. The kitchen chimney, as well as the oven, was all taken up with the pies. Besides all the more common pies—such as those of pigeons and poultry, of rabbits and hares, of mullet and bass, veal and parsley—we had many sorts of savoury herby pies even at that season of the year, from the abundance of beets, round-robins, young nettle-tops, patience docks, sorrel, and other new things that are always sprouting in the sunny hedges and slopes of the sheltered spot above the mill-stream that we call the Ladies’ Garden, besides many new roots and things that the gardener is getting into the place every year, and which gives us plenty of herbs all the time. Then we had the great savoury squab pies, sweet giblet pies and other nick-nacks, and sweet pies for the ladies.
As soon as the large things were taken from the oven, cakes and pasties were ready to be put in, the oven continuing hot enough to bake small odds and ends all the day long. The great Christmas puddings had to be boiled in the parlour chimney, every other fireplace being taken up with cooking something or other.
The squire, with some of the elderly hunters and the ladies who went up to the hills and carns to see the chase, returned soon after noon. Then the table was laid, and from that time till long after dark, company after company kept coming home laden with game and as hungry as hounds. As the squire had nobody but myself to take care of him and to look after everything in the house, dear old Madam Pendar came down from Trevider early in the morning to receive the company, lend hand about the small kickshaws, to see that everything was in order, and laid out on the hall table with the proper garnishing that the squire likes to see. By the time that all was arranged in the grand old-fashioned style, the squire and visitors from a distance were marshalled into the hall, summoned by the music of the bugle; but, long before the dinner was
over, all the grandeur, garniture, and style might have gone to the Old One, for what did anyone who had to do with the cooking or eating care about the roasted apples stuck in the mouths of the roasted pigs, or the garlands and sprigs of rosemary and other faldelals stuck about this and that? We told the last hunters, who came home when the smoking bowls of punch, tankards of spiced ale, and roasted apples were placed on the board, that they might help themselves from the spits, still before the fire—they might cut and come again or go without, for what we cared, as we were quite runned down and worn out with so much cooking and serving from long before daylight till after dark.
Then some of the ladies came out of the parlour, and turned to with right good will to serve the youngsters, who showed them good sport in the morning, and who would join them in many a lively dance and jolly game before bedtime.
Didn't the old house look grand and glorious that night—decked out with branches of holly, box, and bays, with garlands and wreaths of ivy and other greens on window and wall, and chimney and board; the painted candles in the great high burnished candlesticks; between the steaming bowls and tankards, piles of apples roasted and raw, and heaps of sweet cakes? The light of the candles was little wanted, with the flaming logs of ash and oak that kept the chimney all albaze.
Then the squire looked to grand and so happy when the stately old ladies came with him and other gentlemen into the hall to see the guise-dance of "St. George and the Turkish Knight," with many other such sports and pastimes as they say are not known up the country. On the whole the best fun we had was in the game of "Burning the Witch." * Many a tumble we got from the pole, and hard qualks (falls) on the stones of the floor, before we could burn the paper effigy of some rank witches, and some we could not set ablaze at all.
The young folks enjoyed themselves in playing blind-bucca-Davy (blind man's bluff) in the kitchens, or hide-and-seek in the long dark passages and holes and corners of the old house, where they can kiss in comfort. To tell of all the sports and pastimes we had that night would take all day.
After the guise-dance, Bet of the Mill carne in with her crowde to beat up the time to the old ballads she sang for the dancers in the hall.
[paragraph continues] At the same time the boots of others were stamping to the same tunes on the caunce (pavement) outside the windows. The older folks called on the miller for some of the drolls that they have heard scores of times before, yet they never tire of hearing the same old stories about the ancient places and people over and over again; and the miller has learned the trick of weaving such things as only happened yesterday (as one may say) into the old drolls, so that they seem ever new and fresh to us: when the squire had pledged the droll-teller, and sent him the great goblet brimming with spiced ale, the miller began the droll of the Giant of Nancledrea and Tom, and Jack the Tinker and the High-country folks. Between the different parts of this long old droll, other joined in a three-man song, to give the miller time to drain the cup and breathe awhile.
I was helped to bed long before the story was ended and when the fun was at the highest, that I might rest my weary bones and aching head, which got quite light with the steam and the merest taste of the different sorts of drinks. All in vain to think of having a wink of sleep, for right under the chamber window more dancing was going on by the moonlight to the tunes they beat up on pewter platters and small brass pans. At last, thank goodness, some time in the small hours of the morning. I heard the cheers for the jolly squire and the healths drunk outside the door from the parting-cup by the few on horseback who were not going to remain over Christmas, and I fell asleep in wishing—
A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to One and All.
224:* The above carols were the greatest favourites, among many others equally quaint and old, which were sung in the western churches and round the firesides, until about fifty years ago, and in some places even later. Versions of these carols, somewhat different from those known at the Land's-end, are to be found in "Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern," by William Sandys, F.S.A. The same author also gives the old guise-dance of Saint George, and describes in part the old Christmas pastime of "Burning the Witches." He does not seem to be aware that the intent of the game was to try who were witches and who were not, by either setting the witch on fire, or getting a fall upon the floor.
226:* To play the game of burning the old witch, a pole about five feet long, such as a pike-staff or shovel-hilt, is placed with each end resting on a low stool. A lighted candle is placed on the floor at a short distance from the pole, on which the person who undertakes to burn the witch endeavours to keep sitting, with the feet also (crossed at the ankles) resting on the pole clear of any other support or help, except the paper, or rag figure, to represent the witch to be burnt for fun, by the person sitting in this ticklish position, who often falls many times before the paper figure can be burnt at the candle on the floor.